After a whirlwind three-city Europe tour over ten days in June this summer, during an unusual heat wave over most of Europe, my only goal was to decompress somewhere by the sea before we flew back home. While my husband departed with our older daughter to hand her over to summer camp, I stayed on with my younger daughter to enjoy a few last days on the Amalfi Coast. The last time I stepped foot in this scenic area of Italy, I was a college student (and on a much smaller budget, mind you). A reunion was long overdue.
Choosing Hotel Santa Caterina over other choices on the coast or the island of Capri for four nights was an easy choice. Santa Caterina, a grand and classic hotel, is a long-time favorite among many friends and the hotel is known for being particularly family-friendly. I also loved the fact that the Santa Caterina is one of the few hotels that is still family-owned since this it was purchased in 1880 and opened as a hotel in 1904. In fact, we had the pleasure of meeting three generations of the Gambardella/Gargano family, who still own the hotel, during our stay.
I vaguely remembered the hair-raising turns on the 90-minute drive to Amalfi from Naples airport the first time I came here. The winding roads, particularly during the last 45 minutes, will make even the most stoic person queasy, especially as you ascend the cliffs towards the hotel. But trust me, once you arrive at the hotel, any grumpy thoughts will disappear instantaneously as you take in the jaw-dropping scenery before you. Perched cliffside, Hotel Santa Caterina feels as if it is suspended over the Mediterranean sea and the Gulf of Salerno. It’s postcard-perfect (or more appropriately, Instagram-perfect).
But it was the tiered tree groves of lemons, limes, apricots, oranges and bougainvillea, not the views, that won me over. Each morning, as we walked under the groves from our room to breakfast, I reveled in the intoxicating scents of the fruit and flowers. I want to bottle that smell. The visual combination of turquoise sea, dramatic cliffs, and fruit groves makes the Hotel Santa Caterina a Instagrammer/selfie-taker’s dream come true. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of poseurs with their iPhones at the resort.
As it was just my daughter and I, we booked one of the more basic rooms at the hotel, a Partial sea-view Double Room, and were fortunately upgraded at the time of booking to a Direct Sea View Double with balcony. Our room was located away from the main hotel in an Annex, which was secluded and quiet, with spectacular views. Our room was a bit small but opening the louvred doors to our balcony to the incredible view of the sea and the town of Amalfi each morning was all I could hope for and more. The daily plates of fruit and chocolates in our room along with a stuffed animal for Justine was a nice touch.
Another unique feature I appreciated (and most likely other guests too – 40% of the guests at the hotel are repeat bookers) of the Santa Caterina is that it is one of the only properties on the Amalfi Coast with direct sea access. While most other hotels in the area dispatch guests to public beaches or satellite beach clubs, Santa Caterina has its own private beach club with pool. The salt water pool is situated 10 stories below the lobby, which you can access by stairs or the glass elevator from the main lobby. After one or two times up and down the steep steps to pick up a forgotten item in the room, that elevator becomes a godsend. The staff at the pool are eager to please and can be quite entertaining – they like to put on a show for guests.
We spent three very hot days at the hotel relaxing by the pool, swimming in the refreshing waters of the sea (with is cordoned off for safety and guests are provided floats), and then departing late afternoon to explore the towns of Ravello and Amalfi, staying for dinner at local restaurants. There were plenty of children of all nationalities at the hotel, most of them finding each other and making friends at the pool. Justine made many friends there, playing for hours with the owner’s grandchildren in their villa at the hotel.
Hands down one of our best decisions we made during our stay was to hire a private boat for the day to see and swim the grottos and cruise around the coast. Our boat was arranged easily through the hotel, which offers a fleet of boats in various sizes and rates (ours was about 880 Euros for the day), which conveniently comes right up to Santa Caterina’s dock to pick you up. From 10-5, we enjoyed a speedboat with Antonio, our young and adorable captain who spoke ‘not so much’ English but who was eager to accommodate our ‘hit’ list for the day. As it was a brutally hot day, we canceled plans to walk around Capri and opted instead to go for several swims in the stunning grottos, cruise around the islands and have lunch at La Fontelina ( an incredible restaurant only accessible by boat). It was my favorite day with my daughter on the whole trip – on any trip really. We felt like movie stars. It was a blissful way to end our vacation.
WHEN TO GO
Living large on the Amalfi Coast doesn’t come cheap. The area caters to tourists, especially Americans, and I was disappointed how touristy the town has become. Even in early summer, the area felt bursting with buses, tourists and cruise lines. I can only imagine how busy (and expensive) it is in high season. To eschew the crowds, I would return in May or September.
The hotel’s location on cliffside perch overlooking sea is quite stunning. Less than half a mile from the town of Amalfi, the hotel offers frequent complimentary shuttles into town (you can walk but I would not advise it as there is not much room to walk on the busy narrow road. As the shuttle ends at 6:30, it is worth noting that a taxi or car is required to get to restaurants in Amalfi and Ravello, which can be pretty expensive.
There are 54 rooms at the hotel and 16 suites with various layouts and room categories. Each individually unique, rooms are decorated simply, with traditional Italian furnishings and hand-painted ceramic tile floors. Modern comforts such as USB ports (If I never had to carry a converter again, I would be very happy), flat screen TVs, and blowdryers are provided in every room as are Bulgari toiletries.
Rooms and suites are spread throughout the property – some in the main building, others in an annex a few minutes walk away while other specialty suites are tucked away in the groves.
My daughter and I were in Room 73 – a double room with direct sea view in an annex a few minutes walk from the main hotel. While I was first skeptical of being away from the hub of the main building, we liked the distance from the main building as it gave us the opportunity to walk through the beautiful lemon and orange groves several times each day.
Rates during summer start at 880 euros for double rooms. Double Rooms are fairly small and basic so we would recommend booking the junior suites or suites which are generously sized and have open plan living and bedrooms. It would be pointless to stay here and not have a direct sea view, so make sure you request one at time of booking.
Most of the professional and warm staff from the family-owned Hotel Santa Caterina have been there for decades. From pre planning to end, service was exemplary – attentive to our every need. The concierge responded immediately and proactively with recommendations for us before and during our stay and was always spot on with his choices. The only exception to this was one incidence at lunch at Al Mare when our server was perpexingly indifferent and unhelpful – we were one of the only guests in the restaurant.
There are two restaurants at the hotel. Restaurant Santa Caterina is the main restaurant for breakfast and dinner and most guests opt to eat al fresco on the terrace overlooking the sea during the evenings. The restaurant serves classic and delicious Italian dishes. While appealing mostly to adults with its elegant atmosphere, the other diners and staff could not have been more welcoming and friendly when we dined there one night. Al Mare is a more casual restaurant located on a shaded terrace overlooking the pool and sea serving yummy fresh pasta, fish and brick oven pizzas during lunch. Breakfast, included in our rate, is a standout with many buffet options and hot items to please anyone.
Places to Eat in and around Amalfi
There are plenty of amazing choices in the area. We hit a few, all great, among the many recommended to us by the concierge and friends:
Eolo (inside and outside seating with sea view)
Trattoria da Gemma – an upscale traditional restaurant with view over main square of Amalfi, famous for its fish soups.
Donna Stella – A wonderful and very casual pizzeria located outside under the lemon groves. Delicious pizzas and very family friendly.
Ravello and beyond
Cumpa Cosimo – A classic family fun Italian restaurant run by Grandma Netta – entertaining atmosphere with great ambiance and food. Must go!
Lido Azzurro (overlooking the sea, fish dishes, closed Mondays. Good for lunch)
Rossellini’s in Hotel Palazzo Sasso – Gourmet restaurant with stunning views (in Ravello)
Hotel Caruso – also in Ravello. More formal restaurant.
Lo Scoglio – Decades old institution accessed by boat with simple delicious seafood.
La Fontelina – A must for the people watching and scenery alone but also serves delicious fresh past and seafood! Accessible only by boat. Was our favorite even though it is outrageously overpriced. Maitre d sizes you up to determine what table you get!
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Hotel Santa Caterina
For 2017, Virtuoso Rates at Santa Caterina includes:
• Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
• Daily Buffet breakfast, for two
• Complimentary Wi-Fi
• Gift shopping (up to US $100 per room, per stay) on all local ceramic items in boutique
• Low & Shoulder Season – Lunch for Two
• Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
Why book Virtuoso?
- Personalized travel assistance
- 24/7 online booking
- Special rates & exclusive offers
- Guaranteed Room upgrade*
- Complimentary full American breakfast
- Early check-in, Late check-out*
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- * based on availability on time of arrival